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Written by Student Rights on 2 April 2013 at 1pm

Haitham Al-Haddad and the Family Retreat at Nottingham University

As students began to head home for their Easter Break this weekend, the University of Nottingham was busy allowing a group of speakers with extreme and intolerant views to hold a three-day conference on campus called ‘Family Retreat’.

Organised by the Muslim Research and Development Foundation (MRDF), the event featured a number of speakers that should raise concerns, and was promoted to students at both Leicester and Nottingham Universities.

The founder of MRDF, and one of the event’s key-note speakers, was Dr Haitham Al-Haddad. During 2012 he was barred from speaking at both the London School of Economics and London Metropolitan University, and was cancelled from speaking at the University of Essex in February.

In a deeply homophobic article on his website Islam21C he has claimed that “the scourge of homosexuality” is a “criminal act” and has also stated  that the death penalty for apostasy “does make perfect sense”.

He has also declared that “a man should not be questioned why he hit his wife, because this is something between them”.

Haddad also indulges in rhetorical support for the anti-Semitic paramilitary group Hamas, proscribed as a terrorist organisation in the UK, claiming that the group is only opposed by the West as “there is a high level of enmity and hatred against Hamas as a Muslim group”.

He will be joined at this event by another defender of Hamas, Zahir Mahmood, who has declared that “Hamas are not terrorists, they’re freedom fighters” at a rally for Viva Palestina.

Speaking alongside him will be Wasim Kempson, a patron of the charity ‘Helping Households Under Great Stress (HHUGS), which “provides practical support and advice to households devastated by the arrest of a family member under UK anti-terror legislation”.

Whilst HHUGS claims that it does not support convicted terrorists, as recently as 2011 it was urging supporters to write to detainees including Khalid Al-Fawwaz, Osama Bin Laden’s former UK spokesman.

Al-Fawwaz, who claimed to have met Bin Laden in Sudan in the 1990s, was arrested in 1998 and is thought to have been involved in the bombings of the US Embassies in East Africa on 7th August 1998 which killed 226 people.

Since Student Rights highlighted this in November 2012 the request has been removed from the HHUGS website.

Compounding this, in February 2012 a number of videos and articles, including one by Haitham Al-Haddad, appeared on the HHUGS website supporting the family of Munir Farooqi despite his convictions for soliciting to murder and preparing terrorist acts.

Finally, the event will also feature Hamza Tzortzis, famous for declaring that “we as Muslims reject the idea of freedom of speech, and even the idea of freedom”.

His organisation, the Islamic Education and Research Academy (IERA), made national news earlier in March after it was barred from University College London after attempting to impose segregation by gender at an event.

Tzortzis has argued in the past that “Some people object to Islam making the public expression of homosexuality a criminal act. This is subjective and only strikes a chord amongst those who cannot escape the social constructs in their own societies” and has also expressed his support for barbaric punishments including amputation, refusing to condemn the cutting off of people’s hands.

Given the nature of these speakers it is likely that many students would have been extremely unhappy to find out that such an event is taking place on their campus, yet the University of Nottingham told Student Rights:

The East Midlands Conference Centre has accepted a commercial booking from a legitimate organisation, following its usual assessment procedure for such an event. Such a booking is also aligned with the University’s commitment to freedom of speech and the requirements of the 1986 Education (No2) Act.

The Act requires that – so far as it is reasonably practicable, and within the bounds of lawful speech – no premises of the University shall be denied to any individual or body of persons on any grounds connected with the beliefs or views of that individual or of that body, or the policy or objectives of that body.

This commitment sometimes means listening to challenging views, but it is a principle we defend”.

The provision of conference facilities to speakers with extreme or intolerant views is something that Student Rights have highlighted in the past, including when Oxford University allowed the homophobic Christian Concern to hold an Easter Conference at Exeter College in March 2012.

In this case, the university stated that it would not be financially viable to cancel the event, with similar concerns likely to have troubled the University of Nottingham.

Whilst this may be true, should universities be accepting bookings from organisations like the MRDF in the first place?

Haddad and his colleagues have the right to freedom of expression, but if he has not been invited by students or faculty staff, the university does not have to provide him with a platform simply because he asks for one.

The use of the Education Act to excuse taking money from extremists is a defence which is beginning to wear thin, and here at Student Rights we would hope that next time the University of Nottingham receive a booking request from Haddad he receives the refusal that he deserves.